11 December 2010


Upon reflection, I realize I’ve written an awful lot of special interest pieces lately, so it seems time for something political.  Wikileaks is a likely topic; after all, everyone and their mother seem to be throwing in their two cents.  To my mind, the leaks are more affecting the perception, rather than the reality, of the war.  Actually, they are viewed with a bit of scorn hereabouts.  You mean to tell me that the ANA is corrupt and take more bribes than a Mexican border guard?  Say it ain’t so!  I think the corruption doesn’t so much bother the Coalition mentors (or even the average Afghan).  Rather, it’s the lack of discipline and laziness that’s really a bugger.  I’ve heard stories about how ANA and ANP units were unable to use the range on their reserved days because they left guns in their barracks or opted not to go on patrol because it’s too hot.  I hate to remind them, but we’re in Afghanistan – it’s hot in the summer.  Where’s the exposé on that, I wonder?

Sorry  - to bring myself back on topic, the leaks, at least those pertaining to Afghanistan, are both old news and undeserving in many instances of the secrecy they previously enjoyed.  I’m speaking very broadly here, but frankly, I think a lot of this information should have already been disclosed.  The Wikileaks dump shouldn’t evoke this level of scandal and salaciousness, but Administration’s reaction almost invites it.  The government plays too many things too close to the vest.  This sort of knowledge and transparency is what has traditionally furnished democracies with such a low tolerance for war.  Maybe our law-makers will remember these costs next time they authorize a declaration of war or re-up the various remaining provisions of the PATRIOT Act.  Functionally, Wikileaks only managed to embroider a truth that was already clearly spelled out: in Afghanistan, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.  Fred Kaplan articulated our precarious situation in an elegant and deceptively charming bit of alliteration when he described the “anguished ambivalence” of this war: “failure would be disastrous but success might be impossible.”

Moving from one leak to the next, as someone who cares about development and is at least vaguely interested in the Foreign Service, I found the State cables both hilarious and refreshing honest.  Calling out Mugabe as a “crazy old man” and Berlusconi as “feckless, vain, and ineffective”?  Priceless – really, they just put to official and private-ish paper what everyone else is thinking.  Actually, these descriptions are a bit kinder than they reasonably could have been.  I myself would have gone for creepy, Bacchanalian aspiring tyrant for the latter and sadistic digbat actual tyrant for former.  Admittedly, the cables are generally condescending and, at least in the sniggering about Gaddafi’s nurse, juvenile (yes, I realize I’m being flip.  The material about Yemen is actually quite sobering).  Even as an avowed multilateral institutionalist, I’m not particularly shocked or put out that the US spies on the UN.  We spy on everybody, and considering how much of our money goes there, I don’t terribly begrudged covertly looking into things.  That said, I do find the attempt to solicit frequent flier numbers to be a bit beyond the pale.  At least we know State snoops are thorough.    

Thus far, the only substantive problem I have with Wikileaks was the revelation of the names of Coalition collaborators and informants in Afghanistan.  I work with some of these collaborators daily, meeting one linguist on my last road trip who gave such valuable information so consistently that he was now confined to base for his own safety after the Marines already faked his death.  Even among those not in war zone witness protection, their fortitude and dedication to their country is commendable.  They’re sincerely trying to build a better future for themselves and their families.  Where the hell do Julian Assange and company get off risking the lives of these courageous Afghans just to stick it to the man?  Do they have any idea about who they’re functionally hurting?  For a moment, perhaps they should climb off their high horse or glance out of the Ivory Tower.  In this sense, Wikileaks is almost as bad as that hatefully absurd Florida minister.

Indeed, if I don’t have a problem with the majority of the leaked content per se, I certainly take issue with the medium.  It is becoming increasingly hard for me to distinguish Assange from Wikileaks (partly because the association is forced.  He was the one, after all, that claimed the rape charges in Sweden were a ‘dirty trick’ manipulated by the Pentagon).  Also, I find that such an opaque organization presents itself as a champion of transparency irritatingly hypocritical.  In the long run, it will be interesting to see if Assange and Co. have bitten off more than they can chew with Russia (or the Bank of America, for that matter). 

Even with my reservations about Wikileaks and Assange in particular, I have to state without equivocation that trying him for treason and/or killing him (!) are obviously not the answer.  For one, he’s not an American.  For the other SWEET GLORIOUS GOODNESS, PEOPLE!  What about due process?  Or freedom of the press (even if Wikileaks arguable doesn’t count as press, is this not a slippery slope)?  Are we really willing to abridge some of our most fundamental liberties and devastate the founding principles of our nation because of one prick from Australia?  As mama grizly Palin herself might roar, not in my America.  That kind of hyperbolic rhetoric only serves to legitimate him as a martyr and is repulsive. 

 In other more Afghan-centric news, more traditional journalistic techniques suggest that some of Gen. Petraeus’ vaunted COIN methods may be countering productivity rather than insurgency.  I fully buy that upcoming insurgents are more deeply radicalized than their predecessors, though I think it’s something of a stretch to allege the former Taliban were anything less than extremist.  Also, Afghani neighborhood watches must be intense.  I cannot imagine the weekly meetings – do you think they have their own arsenals?  Or are they BYOK (bring your own Kalashnikov)?

And now for something completely different…  Per David Bosco at Foreign Policy, UN Peacekeepers are potentially responsible for the cholera outbreak in Haiti.  At least they aren’t raping people.  They keep that shit in the Congo.